Federal Judge Rules AI-Created Art Non-Copyrightable, Casting Doubt on Hollywood's AI Plans

In a landmark decision last Friday, a federal judge reaffirmed the U.S. Copyright Office’s stance that artworks produced by artificial intelligence (AI) are not eligible for copyright protection. The ruling emphasized the pivotal role of human involvement in the process of creating copyrightable works, thereby quashing a lawsuit seeking protection for AI-generated art.

Background: Amid a prolonged writers strike lasting over 100 days, there’s been growing apprehension about Hollywood studios potentially utilizing generative AI systems to author scripts. However, with the prevailing intellectual property framework firmly endorsing copyrights exclusively for human-made creations, the future of AI-written scripts remains uncertain.

The Case: Stephen Thaler, arguing under the work-for-hire doctrine, claimed ownership of a copyright for an artwork produced by his AI system named the “Creativity Machine.” He had taken legal action against the U.S. Copyright Office for refusing to register AI-created works, insisting on the mandate for human authorship. Thaler asserted that AI, upon fulfilling certain authorship prerequisites, should be recognized as an “author,” with rights accruing to the machine’s proprietor. He further contended that the office’s rejection was in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, which outlines the legal scrutiny of agency decisions.

The case fundamentally questioned the applicability of copyright law to a work exclusively crafted by a computer.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, delivering the verdict, stated, “In the absence of any human involvement in the creation of the work, the clear and straightforward answer is the one given by the Register: No.”

Howell emphasized that U.S. copyright law has always been tailored to safeguard “works of human creation,” evolving with changing times. The ruling underscored the inherent significance of human creativity, even when expressed via novel tools or media.

Repercussions and Future Implications: This verdict, citing multiple precedents, emphasized the necessity for human creativity and choices, especially as the distinction between AI-generated content and human creation becomes increasingly intricate.

Significance: This ruling underlines that the legal system has yet to recognize the dawn of the robot artist era. However, as AI continues to evolve and its creative prowess becomes more pronounced, there might be a growing call for reevaluating and potentially granting certain copyright liberties to AI-generated works.